By Eli Clifton and Daniel Luban
This fall, U.S. law enforcement personnel will have their final chance to take advantage of a rare opportunity. Participants will travel to Israel to receive “homeland security training,” but the counterterrorism briefings and martial arts practice sessions are only one part of the package. The program also includes visits to Christian religious sites in the Holy Land — an aspect likely to be especially attractive to Christian Zionists — along with other sites such as the Knesset and the Israeli “security fence”.
The Israel program is run by Security Solutions International (SSI), a group that has attracted controversy due to its ties to Islamophobic propaganda groups — as well as its apparent view that indoctrinating first responders with alarmist information about Islam is an essential part of counterterrorism training.
Most striking of all, the SSI Israel trip is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. DHS’s funding of this venture is a concrete illustration of the ways that Islamophobic fringe groups have exploited the “global war on terror” for their own purposes.
SSI advertises its DHS funding in its promotional material:
”The US Department of Homeland Security has given funding to the SSI trip – to the best of our knowledge the only trip to qualify by a private company. The program is approved for graduate and undergraduate college credits.
SSI’s Training in Israel has been attended by Police, Sheriffs, Emergency Management, Transportation, Fire, Joint Terrorism Task Forces, State Law Enforcement Agencies, Fortune 500 companies, DHS and many more. All of them say this training is the very best they have ever received.”
So what does this training involve? In addition to martial arts demonstrations (including “how to take down an armed suicide bomber”), meetings with Israeli security personnel, and a three-hour presentation on “suicide terror,” the itinerary also includes more tourist-oriented activities. Tourist excursions are both political (visits to the Knesset, the West Bank “security barrier,” and southern Israeli towns that have been the target of rocket attacks from Gaza), and religious (trips to Jerusalem’s Old City and to “some of Christianity’s holiest sites”).
While this DHS-funded trip might already seem a bit odd — especially the emphasis on Christian religious sites during what is ostensibly a counterterrorism training program — things take a turn towards the bizarre in the section of the website advertising SSI’s two day presentations on “The Islamic Jihadist Threat”.
“In a fascinating and insightful, packed two-day program, you are taken through the formative phases of the Islamic religion and will understand the different branches of Islam, understand how these were formed and on what ideology they are based. You are taken through a journey up to the present time, to really understand how extremism is organized in Radical Islam.
In addition, you will learn about Islamic Culture – knowledge that can help you build strong relationship with Islamic communities – most of whom can actually help detect radical threats:
– Where does the hatred come from?
– Arab naming conventions
– The Five Pillars of Islam
– Domestic Terror groups
– International Terror groups
– Understanding the culture of Jihad
It’s hard to imagine how an introduction to Islam that begins with “where does the hatred come from?” could lead the audience to come away with anything but distrust and fear of Muslims.
Unsurprisingly, SSI has been criticized for the alarmist tenor of its “counterterrorism” training. It is not immediately obvious why the Appalachian State University campus security force, or the Yakima, WA police department — to take two representative names from SSI’s clients list — require a crash course in the fine points of jihadist ideology to do their jobs properly.
Critics have pointed out that the most likely effect of such training — particularly for law enforcement personnel who have never had significant contact with Muslims before — is to drum up hysteria, and increase the likelihood of a potentially tragic overreaction when they actually do encounter someone they presume to be Muslim.
As Arsalan Bukhari, president of the Washington state chapter of CAIR, told the Seattle Times: “Most police officers don’t have a basic grounding in Islam, so before you teach them about Islam, how can you teach them about radical Islam? It just makes you nervous because when a law-enforcement person pulls someone over, when they see a Muslim person or someone who appears Muslim to them — all this information they just learned kicks in.”
Given SSI’s ideology, readers may not be surprised to discover the Islamophobic company it keeps. SSI lists the Clarion Fund‘s film Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West as a ”Patriot Partner”.
According to the SSI website, this fall’s Israel trip will be the last. Still, the religious emphasis of SSI’s trips, their propensity to view all of “Islamic Culture” through the prism of “where does the hatred come from?”, and their partnership with the “Obsession” project’s divisive anti-Muslim message, all raise serious questions about why this group has been receiving DHS funding in the first place.